Raphael Varane was sent off by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) but 10-man France recovered to beat traditional rivals England 3-2 in an entertaining friendly at the Stade de France in Paris on Tuesday night.
France manager Didier Deschamps made several changes to the side that were stunned by Sweden in their World Cup qualifier on Saturday, with hot-shots Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe starting in a 4-4-2 Les Blue lineup. Antoine Griezmann was the biggest star to miss out, warming the bench alongside Blaise Matuidi and Dimitri Payet. Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, however, started in midfield as Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti in the hear of the defence with custodian Hugo Lloris leading the side from the back.
England had an almost full-strength starting XI, with Tom Heaton and Kieran Trippier the notable inclusions at the back. Gareth Southgate one for a 3-4-3 formation with Harry Kane continuing with the armband as the in-form striker started alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling with Tottenham Hotspur duo Dele Alli and Eric Dier starting in midfield.
Despite having the home advantage, France fell behind as early as the 8th minute, but it was hard to pin-point a significant mistake in the goal as England played some of their best football till date in the build-up. Alli deftly switched play from the right to the left, sending a cross-field ball for Sterling to control in the France box. The winger excellent first-touch allowed him to set up the galloping Ryan Bertrand for a sizzling cross which Kane greedily lapped up.
It was end-to-end stuff and France never looked rattled despite the early deficit as they kept probing what seemed like a shaky England back-three of Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and John Stones.
And Les Blues got the equaliser when Olivier Giroud forced a save from Heaton after being unmarked on a free-kick and as the rebound fell kindly to Umtiti, the centre-back lashed home with the England defence all at sea.
The momentum was firmly with the hosts and they sought to get a vital goal before half-time and they were rewarded for their efforts when full-back Djibril Sidibe was on hand to turn in a rebound after Heaton had initially saved Dembele’s effort. The Borussia Dortmund winger was terrorising the English defence on the night, feinting one way and going the other and Stones in particular, was embarrassed on the occasion.
Early on in the second-half there was drama aplenty as Varane was adjudged to have tripped Ali inside the box with the midfielder straight through on goal. While the contact was minimal, it was enough to warrant a penalty and reduce the hosts to ten men. Despite the incredulous protests by the French, the referee was firm and Kane stepped up to beat his club teammate Hugo Loris from the spot in the 48th minute, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way to keep his goalscoring streak alive.
Despite being a man to the good, England were unable to fashion any more meaningful chances and made matters worse for themselves when a loose ball was intercepted by France 12 minutes from time. Mbappe set up Dembele, whose low shot beat substitute Jack Butland, immediately making their visitors regret their wastefulness in possesion.
Les Blues hung on for the win, defending deep and while it hasn't been a perfect off-season for them, their young stars proved that the future is still bright.
For England, the result goes on to prove that they are very much a work in progress and while they may be comfortably topping their World Cup Qualifying Group, the fact remains that against high-calibre opponents, they have often been found wanting.